The report issued at the end of the synod on synodality’s first session evolved considerably from the day a draft was presented to delegates to its Oct. 28 release.
An initial draft of the “synthesis report” prompted more than 1,000 amendments after it was shared with participants Oct. 25.
Here’s a guide to 10 notable changes.
1) ‘Permanent synod’ dropped
❌ Before: “It is proposed to establish a permanent synod of bishops elected by Episcopal Conferences to support the Petrine ministry” (chapter 13, section j).
✅ After: “It is proposed to enhance and strengthen the experience of the Council of Cardinals (C-9) as a synodal council at the service of the Petrine ministry” (13, j, approved 319-27).
🤷♂️ What changed: When Pope Paul VI established the synod of bishops as a permanent institution with the 1965 apostolic letter Apostolica sollicitudo, he said it would enable bishops to “offer more effective assistance to the supreme Shepherd.” He also decreed that members would include “bishops elected by individual national episcopal conferences.”
But as it exists in canon law, while the secretariat of the synod of bishops is a permanent institution, the synod itself is a body reconstituted for every new synodal session, with representatives from episcopal conferences and special papal invitees chosen for each new assembly according to the pope’s wishes.
In the end, participants called instead for an already established body, the Council of Cardinal Advisers, to be re-envisaged as “a synodal council at the service of the Petrine ministry,” without specifying how.
2) ‘LGBTQ+’ excised
❌ Before: “In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality, such as divorced people in a second union, people who identify as LGBTQ+, etc., also ask to be heard and accompanied” (16, g).
✅ After: “In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their marriage status, identity or sexuality also ask to be heard and accompanied” (16, h, approved 326-20).
🤷♂️ What changed: The acronym “LGBTQ+,” which also appeared in the synod on synodality’s working document, vanished. Synod organizers have not offered an explanation for the term’s disappearance.
Papal synod appointee Cardinal Blase Cupich has suggested that “the decision not to use the term LGBTQ was informed by some synod members from the global south, who spoke about having negative experiences in dealing with conditions on foreign aid from western countries that use that terminology.”
Another synodal attendee, Fr. James Martin, S.J., claimed that “The document, as it turns out, does not reflect the fact that the topic of LGBTQ people came up repeatedly in both many table discussions and the plenary sessions, and provoked widely diverging views.”
3) Laicized priests
❌ Before: No reference to priests who have left the ministry.
✅ After: “On a case-by-case basis, and in accordance with the context, the possibility should be considered of re-inserting priests who have left the ministry in pastoral services that recognize their formation and experience” (11, l, approved by 293-53).
🤷♂️ What changed: A new paragraph was added concerning priests who have left the ministry — but no specificity was offered about under what circumstances they left. Presumably, the text meant the thousands of priests who asked to be laicized in the wake of Vatican II so they would be free to marry, rather than those who have requested laicization (or had it imposed) following canonical criminal offenses or other scandal.
The new paragraph received more “no” votes than many others.
4) Defining terms
❌ Before: “It is proposed to establish a committee of theologians to be entrusted with the task of proceeding with the work of terminological clarification” (1, p).
✅ After: “The assembly proposes to promote theological deepening of the terminological and conceptual understanding of the notion and practice of synodality before the second session of the assembly, drawing on the rich heritage of theological research since the Second Vatican Council and in particular the documents of the International Theological Commission on ‘Synodality in the life and mission of the Church’ (2018) and ‘The sensus fidei in the life of the Church’ (2014)” (1, p, approved by 339-5).
🤷♂️ What changed: The final text changed from calling for the creation of a new committee to endorsing the promotion of work that sheds light on synodality. It recognized that substantial efforts have already been made to do this, including in texts by the International Theological Commission, an advisory body of theologians appointed by the pope.
5) Liturgical language
❌ Before: “A second step refers to the widely reported need to make liturgical language more accessible to the faithful and more embodied in the diversity of cultures. Without questioning continuity with ritual tradition and the need for liturgical formation, reflection on this issue and the attribution of greater responsibility to the episcopal conferences in this area is urged” (3, l).
✅ After: “A second step refers to the widely reported need to make liturgical language more accessible to the faithful and more embodied in the diversity of cultures. Without calling continuity with tradition and the need for better liturgical formation into question, deeper reflection is needed. Episcopal conferences should be entrusted with a wider responsibility in this regard, according to the motu proprio Magnum Principium” (3, l, approved 322-22).
🤷♂️ What changed: The phrase “ritual tradition” was slimmed down to “tradition,” and a reference was added to Pope Francis’ 2017 motu proprio, which modified canon law to give bishops’ conferences greater authority over translations of liturgical texts.
6) Eastern Catholic Churches
❌ Before: “First and foremost, the proposal emerged for the establishment, on the basis of existing norms in canon law, of a permanent assembly of the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches with the pope, as an expression of synodality and an instrument to promote communion and the sharing of liturgical, theological, pastoral and spiritual heritage” (5, h).
✅ After: “First and foremost, the request emerged to establish a permanent Council of the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches to the Holy Father” (6, h, approved by 322-22).
🤷♂️ What changed: A section on the poor was moved to an earlier place in the text, so the section on the Eastern Catholic Churches came in sixth rather than fifth place. The request for a body bringing together the heads of the autonomous Churches together with the pope remained intact, but the institution was defined as a “council” rather than a “permanent assembly.”
7) The magisterium
❌ Before: “We need to recognize that certain issues, such as those relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, the end of life, difficult marital situations, ethical problems connected to artificial intelligence, are controversial not only in society, but also in the Church, because they raise new questions. Sometimes the anthropological categories we have developed are not able to grasp the complexity of the elements emerging from experience or knowledge in the sciences and require greater precision and further study. It is important to take the time required for this reflection and to invest our best energies in it, without giving in to simplistic judgments that hurt individuals and the Body of the Church. Church teaching already provides a sense of direction on many of these matters that still waits to be translated into pastoral initiatives. Even where further clarification is required, Jesus’ actions, assimilated in prayer and conversion of heart, show us the way forward” (15, g).
✅ After: “Some issues, such as those relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, the end of life, difficult marital situations, ethical problems connected to artificial intelligence, are controversial not only in society, but also in the Church, because they raise new questions. Sometimes the anthropological categories that we have developed are not sufficient to capture the complexity of the elements that emerge from experience or scientific knowledge and require refinement and further study. It is important to take the time required for this reflection and to invest our best energies in it, without giving in to simplistic judgments that hurt individuals and the Body of the Church. Many indications are already offered by the magisterium and await to be translated into appropriate pastoral initiatives. Even where further clarification is required, Jesus’ actions, assimilated in prayer and conversion of heart, show us the way forward” (15, g, approved by 307-39).
🤷♂️ What changed: Instead of saying that “Church teaching already provides a sense of direction” on matters that require further study, the approved text refers to indications “already offered by the magisterium.”
The final text places more stress on the magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, in other places too. According to Jonathan Liedl of the National Catholic Register, the word “magisterium” was mentioned four times in the draft, but 10 times in the final version.
❌ Before: No mention of polygamy, the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time.
✅ After: “SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) is encouraged to promote a theological and pastoral discernment on question of polygamy and the accompaniment of people in polygamous unions who are coming to faith” (16, q, approved by 303-43).
🤷♂️ What changed: Polygamy is a challenge confronted especially by the Catholic Church in Africa. The text’s editors decided to include a paragraph about the issue, directing a continental body of bishops to “promote theological and pastoral discernment” on the matter, as well as pastoral care for people who are in polygamous unions but drawn to the Catholic faith.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines polygamy as contrary to the moral law, but says that “the Christian who has previously lived in polygamy has a grave duty in justice to honor the obligations contracted in regard to his former wives and his children.”
9) Bishops’ conferences
❌ Before: “The doctrinal and juridical nature of episcopal conferences needs further study. This implies the need to clarify their status and the possibility of collegial agency, reopening the discussion on the motu proprio Apostolos suos” (19, g).
✅ After: “The doctrinal and juridical nature of episcopal conferences needs further study, recognising the possibility of collegial action, including questions of doctrine that arise locally, thus reopening reflection on the motu proprio Apostolos suos. Apostolos suos” (19, g, approved by 312-34).
🤷♂️ What changed: The section has a significant addition: The reference to “the possibility of collegial action, including questions of doctrine that arise locally.” The question of delegating doctrinal authority — which has swirled around Pope Francis since his election in 2013 — is extremely controversial. Proponents, who include supporters of Germany’s synodal way, argue that it is a necessary step toward decentralization. Critics say it would lead to the disintegration of Church teaching.
10) Women and decision-making processes
❌ Before: “More effort is needed to ensure that, wherever possible, women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry” (9, m).
✅ After: “It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry. ” (9, m, approved by 319-27).
🤷♂️ What changed: The language of this paragraph has been firmed up, stressing that this change is “urgent,” rather than something that simply requires “more effort.” The qualifier “wherever possible” has been removed, strengthening it further.
Editor’s note: This article was updated Oct. 31, 2023, with quotations from the official English translation of the synthesis report.